You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Dirty SnowDirty Snow by Georges Simenon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not often can you say of a novel's protagonist that he amounts to nothing more than a human shit stain. Frank Friedmaier is a nineteen-year-old, fledgling career criminal living in an unnamed city in Nazi occupied France. In the opening scene he commits his first murder, an act he feels that like losing his virginity he needs to get out of the way. Other crimes and one repulsive act of betrayal follow, but what ties the reader to the book is Frank's abhorrent life and the convincing picture of life under occupation Simenon paints. Frank's mother runs a brothel, a solid business paid for in cash and favors. While their neighbors suffer from near starvation and the lack of heat during the dead of winter, the Friedmaier's have coal, real coffee, and decent clothes. They are despised, and in Frank's case, feared. Frank misreads all this as a form of respect from people he finds beneath him. Although the story doesn't get this far, the Friedmaier's are the type of people who will be murdered by their neighbors after the war. But Frank is living the good life until there comes the inevitable knock on the door.

I have never read Simenon because the Maigret novels never appealed to me. I lumped them together, unfairly I am certain, with Agatha Christie's Poirot or any of the other long running, mid-twentieth-century detective series. Dirty Snow is one of Simenon's noir titles and among the darkest novels I have ever read. NYRB has issued several of these Simenon novels in classy paperback editions that look great and feel good in your hands as  you read. You may want to have a warm bath ready for after you finish.

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